Talented and gifted programs get cut from lack of funds

Posted Online: May 06, 2007, 12:00 am
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By Dawn Neuses, dneuses@qconline.com

A lack of dedicated state funding for talented and gifted programs has caused at least one local school district to cut its program and another to pare its program down.

Illinois required school districts to have a talented and gifted program until the 2002-03 school year, when it cut all dedicated funding for the programs. The state instead put the money into general state aid, which is money districts get to help educate each child.

The Riverdale school district in Port Byron is cutting its Talented and Gifted program for the 2007-08 school year, due to budget constraints.

Superintendent Ron Jacobs said the district has to funnel whatever money it has available into helping students who aren't meeting the learning standards established as part of the No Child Left Behind Act.

That federal law imposes sanctions on school districts whose students don't meet the learning standards.

"It causes money to be pulled away from other programs," he said.

The last school year that Riverdale received state funds for its Talented and Gifted program was 2002-03. The district received $13,641 then, which roughly paid half of the salary and benefits for one teacher to work with talented and gifted students, said Mr. Jacobs.

The district paid the other half of the teacher's salary so it could have a pull-out program, in which students were taken out of their regular classes for enrichment activities.

Beginning in the 2003-04 school year, the district began picking up the whole tab for the Talented and Gifted program.

Mr. Jacobs said the decision to cut the program wasn't easy. The district -- which is losing students and thus, state funding -- realizes that new families may not move into it without programs such as Talented and Gifted.

"You become less and less attractive as a school district, when what we count on is getting more and more students in our district," Mr. Jacobs said.

But he is confident needs of the talented and gifted students will continue to be met.

"Our teachers are very good and have the resources to offer some enrichment activities and challenge these students nonetheless," Mr. Jacobs said.

The Silvis school district used to have a two-week summer school program for talented and gifted third- through eighth-graders.

After the state cut all talented and gifted funding, the district had to reduce the program to one week.

Superintendent Ray Bergles said Silvis' junior high school students are still getting opportunities through higher-level classes for gifted students, such as Algebra I and Language Arts.

"It is the younger kids who are really getting hurt," he said.

"It is really a shame. For whatever reason, they took it out of the school code and took all funding away. It seems with No Child Left Behind, the state wanted to make everybody the same," Mr. Bergles said.

The Moline-Coal Valley and Rock Island-Milan school districts have maintained their talented and gifted classroom programs.

"As we all face shrinking resources, we have to prioritize. We feel meeting the needs of all students is important so we continue to support a gifted program," said the Rock Island-Milan assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services, Kay Ingham.

"There is a commitment of district funds because the district feels it is a critical part of our educational offerings to meet the needs of all kids," she added.

Clint Christopher, director of educational programs and technology for the Moline-Coal Valley school district, said it also made a commitment to do the best it can to educate all students.

"A lot of the time, especially with No Child Left Behind, it is easy to focus on the students who are not meeting expectations, or the kids on the border. We tend to forget the students on the top and about enriching their learning as well. Moline made a commitment to its program," he said.

Mr. Christopher added that the budget for a talented and gifted program is a cost the district would have no matter what, because it still has to educate the students.

"Those students still need textbooks and supplies. That classroom still will go on field trips, like any other class. The cost is the same," he said.

A current school funding proposal by Gov. Rod Blagojevich earmarks $5 million for talented and gifted programs statewide. If it passes, it is unknown how the money will be spent across the state, said Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

"We have no details on what it would be used for," he said. It could be used to help start new programs, to offer assistance to current programs or for professional development for teachers, he added.

Mr. Bergles said if the state were to resume full funding of talented and gifted programs, the Silvis school board would most likely add back the second week of its summer program.

"I'm 99 percent sure they'd be behind it then," he said. "We've tried hard to maintain what we can."

Moline offers Academically Talented program first grade through high school

MOLINE -- The Talented and Gifted Program in the Moline-Coal Valley School District offers accelerated opportunities to students beginning as early as first grade.

Students are first evaluated for the program in kindergarten by taking the Cognitive Abilities Test.

Those who score in the 90th percentile and higher, and based on recommendations from their parents and teachers, are ranked, said Clint Christopher, director of educational programs and technology for the Moline-Coal Valley School District.

About the top 25 percent of those students are invited into the program, which is voluntary. The rest are placed on a waiting list.

Students take the test again in second and fifth grades. Those who score in the 95th percentile are invited into the program and put on a waiting list, said Mr. Christopher.

Gifted first- through third-graders are taught within self-contained classrooms at Washington Elementary, and fourth- through sixth-graders at Butterworth Elementary.

Gifted junior high students can attend Wilson Middle School, where accelerated classes are taught in English, math, science and social studies.

At the high school level, gifted students are offered advanced placement courses.

Parents can choose to have their children opt-out of the gifted program at the elementary and middle school level. Those children will still get individualized instruction from their regular classroom teacher, said Peggy Brizgis, a fourth-grade teacher in the district's Program for the Academically Talented.

She said truly gifted students benefit from being around other gifted students because they accelerate through their work.

Teachers of the talented and gifted students allow them to proceed at their own pace, instead of holding all the class to one lesson.

"It is a very fast-paced environment, one the students like. It allows them to learn at their own speed and pace," Ms. Brizgis said.

The district has a parent organization, the Moline Council for the Gifted, which has two programs a year to raise money to be used district-wide on students and teachers.


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